The poisonous Protocols

Umberto Eco on the distinction between intellectual anti-Semitism and its popular counterpart

Saturday 17 August 2002

Amid the controversy following the desecration of Jewish graves in Rome last month, some words of Pier Ferdinando Casini, speaker of Italy’s chamber of deputies, have been remembered. He claimed that anti-Semitism is less rooted in Italy than in other countries. It is my belief that a distinction must be made between intellectual anti-Semitism and popular anti-Semitism. Popular anti-Semitism is as old as the Jewish diaspora. It arose from an instinctive reaction of the common people to different people, who spoke an unknown language evocative of magic rites. A people steeped in the culture of the book, the Jews learned to read and write. They practised medicine, engaged in trade, and lent money – hence the resentment towards them as “intellectuals”. Such were the roots of peasant anti-Semitism in Russia. Continue reading The poisonous Protocols